By Mason W. Canales

Killeen Daily Herald

HARKER HEIGHTS – Thanks to the public's support of its Santa Pal program, the Harker Heights Fire Department has achieved its goal of giving 119 families a better Christmas this year.

"As it turned out, we did pretty well," Fire Chief Jack Collier said Monday. "We appealed to the public, and they really came through."

Before last week, fire officials were afraid they would be unable to give as many gifts this year or provide meals to the families who signed up for its Santa Pal program.

"It was a fairly constant flow (of residents donating) last week," Collier said. "We truly thank the public support. It is truly amazing how many people really care for the less fortunate."

Those who donated their unwrapped gifts and money made it possible for boxes of toys, bicycles and shopping bags of meals to crowd the bay floor of Fire Station No. 1. On Monday, families pulled through a bay to have their cars loaded with the Christmas treats.

"It is just going to make my kids happy," said Trudy Palacios, a resident who received gifts for her children. "I think (fire department officials) are real heroes for helping out the people that are struggling."

Third Armored Cavalry Regiment soldiers, Harker Heights Lions Club members and city firefighters volunteered to hand out the Santa Pal goods.

Sgt. Bernard Hayman, of the 66th Military Intelligence Company, 3rd Squadron, 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, joined the ranks of people filling residents' cars with Santa Pal gifts and food.

"I think it is important to give back to the community," Hayman said. "I am glad to see a lot of kids are going to have a good Christmas, and even though there is a recession, people can still donate and give."

Families picked up toys and Christmas dinners from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. A total of 273 children got presents from the Santa Pal program, and the fire department had some funds left over for the Santa Pal program next year.

"We want to keep this program going," Collier said. "It is a great program."

Contact Mason W. Canales at mcanales@kdhnews.com or (254) 501-7554.

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